Berlin Film Festival Opens With ‘My Salinger Year,’ Subdued Atmosphere

Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley

The 70th Berlin Film Festival got off to a subdued and somber start on Thursday after news of a racially motivated mass shooting Wednesday night in the German city of Hanau rocked the country.

“I wanted to say something about the 70th anniversary of the Berlinale, but events in Hanau hit us all hard,” said Berlinale executive director Mariette Rissenbeek.

Artistic director Carlo Chatrian added: “We stand here as a community. When we sit in the cinema, there is no distinction between class or religion. Cinema brings us together.”

This year’s festival marks the first edition for Chatrian and Rissenbeek, who took over from Dieter Kosslick last year.

The opening night kicked off with the screening of Philippe Falardeau’s “My Salinger Year,” starring Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley, who attended the glitzy premiere.

“My Salinger Year,” which one U.S. producer described as a “literary Devil Wears Prada,” was a safe opener for the event, with an enthusiastic Philippe Falardeau bounding onto the stage ahead of the screening to introduce his cast members.

The Quebecois director also paid respects to the Hanau shootings, which claimed 11 lives including the gunman and his mother, telling the audience, “I want to convey my unflinching solidarity with the German people in these troubled times,” adding his hope that the film might “give you a little light.”

Hosting the show, actor Samuel Finzi offered an intense, often politically pointed speech that focused largely on the plight of immigrants and on his own life as a Bulgarian native in Berlin. “I have an immigration background, as the Germans say.”

“We shouldn’t isolate ourselves and build walls,” Finzi said. “Perhaps there is someone trying to come here that will be a great German hope. Cinema is about shared experiences.”

Finzi replaced long-time host Anke Engelke, a Canadian-German comedian who, insiders privately told Variety at a reception following the screening, was greatly missed by the audience, who failed to connect with Finzi in the same way.

When asked why he was brought in, a number of attendees pointed to the new leadership, which understandably looked to put their own mark on the festival’s 70th edition opener.

Insiders pointed out the change in tone between last year and this year’s ceremony. Dieter Kosslick was known for his larger-than-life personality, and his antics seemed to be missed on stage, where some noted the serious, cerebral nature of the festival’s new co-directors.

Later in the evening, German culture minister Monika Grütters also took the stage and delivered a rousing anti-terror message that brought the crowd to its feet  — one of the ceremony’s few highlights. Variety understands that more politicians were meant to attend the ceremony but ultimately pulled out because of yesterday’s shooting, which still hangs heavy in the air. It’s believed most felt it could be construed as disrespectful to the victims to show up less than 24 hours later at a film festival.

Over the next 10 days, the Berlinale will screen 18 films that vying for the Golden Bear, among them Burhan Qurbani’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” Kelly Reichardt’s “First Cow,” Mohammad Rasoulof’s “There Is No Evil” and Natalia Meta’s “The Intruder.”

Chatrian said earlier that the films in the fest’s various sections this year “tell stories about humankind in all its megalomania and its grandiose fragility.”